Newbridge Workingmen’s Institute

In 1898 a group of local miners formed themselves into a committee to establish an association aimed at improving the social amenities of their fellow workers.

The original committee was formed in the long room of the Beaufort Arms hotel in Bridge Street, and the first task they set themselves was to find suitable accommodation to develop their activities.

The proprietor of a coffee tavern in the village allowed the committee the use of two rooms.  Their first efforts were deemed quite successful, and as Newbridge grew as a mining community the scheme grew to.

Soon a workmen’s institute was envisaged, a type of social meeting place which was becoming very popular in the mining valleys at the time. Although many of the supporters were concerned about the financial risks involved, the  stalwarts pressed on and secured the freehold site for £300.

stute1

Prominent in these negotiations were W.N.Jones, V.Phillips, H.Badge, and H.J.Thomas. They borrowed money to erect the building which was opened in 1908 by Mr.John Beynon the collieries owner. The architect was R.L.Roberts.

    The Institute in 1907

stute2

It provided an extensive library, (with a librarian and assistant), billiards room, Committee room, and a reading room supplied with daily newspapers and journals.

 

 

billiards

It took the committee 14 years to pay back it’s mortgage.

 

 

 

In 1924 an additional building was added to the Institute, called the Memorial Hall.

ceremonyThis photograph was taken at the foundation stone laying ceremony. The people pictured are committee members, trustees and local dignitariesThe event was also attended by the now, knighted, Sir John Beynon C.B.E.(centre of front row in light grey coat) The architect was  E.D.T. Jenkins. Builder & Contractor was Ewart Evans

cleopatraThe ‘Memo’, as it became affectionately known, provided both a picture house and dance hall, along with stage and dressing room facilities.

It quickly became a new social focus point in Newbridge, taking over where the old ‘Grand” picture house and reading rooms in Bridge Street left off. The first film to be shown was ‘The Thief of Bagdad’. ticket

 

 

 

usheretes

In the difficult years of the depression, the doors were rarely closed. Each afternoon, workless miners were entertained by concert parties who either gave their services free, or put on performances to raise funds for charities.

Mr. Harold Jones joined the staff at the Memo in 1924 as cashier, and later became manager when Mr. Frank Thomas died.

 Usherettes 1931

 Stute & Memo

Mr Harold Jones was responsible for executing the schemes promoted by the committee. These schemes have brought first-class artists to the Memo stage.

Mrs.Novello Davies, Webster Booth, Anne Ziegler, Owen Brannigan, John Hargraves, accompanist Gerald Moore, have all appeared at concerts organised on Sunday evenings to raise money for local charities.ball

 

Charity Ball at the Memo early 1930’s                             Abercarn Welsh ‘ In aid of the Royal Gwent Hospital.      

 

 

play

 

Abercarn Welsh Church Dramatic Society at the Memo 1939 production of ‘A Hundred Years’

 

 

 

Society at the Memo 1939.Immediately after the war, Newbridge and the Memo, became prominent as a centre for amateur drama. Many of the leading companies in South Wales and the West of England competed in competitions held there.  To adjudicate at the drama festivals the committee brought in critics likeAllen Dent and Leonard Cranford from the memorial theatre Stratford.          It was during this period of time that Donald Houston appeared in a production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts” and the Welsh Playwright E.Eynon Evans produced and acted in several of his plays, which afterwards became radio favourites. Those were the days when local people would queue all night for tickets. committeeOn entering the old cinema hall I was amazed by it’s size. Light struggles through the partially boarded windows, but sadly it was far too dark to take photos. Plaster is falling off the walls everywhere, and the place is riddled with damp.

Officers and committee members 1959

But still the grandeur of the picture house is still evident, the lovely wooden floor, hand painted fresco panels on the walls, the tastefully decorated bow ceiling; this really must have been some place in it’s heyday.

The seats from the ‘circle’ have been taken out and piled up for storage on the balcony, probably during the occupancy of the film crew who recently used the hall as a film set for an S4C film production.

memo2A few sad looking theatrical lights hang lifeless above the empty stage, bordered by some tatters of curtains.I stood in the old cinema feeling great sadness that such a wonderful place should become abandoned and fall into such disrepair.

So many memories of so many people from Newbridge must be tied up with this building, but now it was left to rot and decay like some unwanted monstrosity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to “Newbridge Workingmen’s Institute”

  • Why can’t something be done to mobilise concern? Lottery funding, Objective 1 and Local Authority funding could be bid for if only we had the enthusiasm!!

  • My memories of the ‘Memo’ were mainly of a Friday night, which was teenagers and kids night.No one ever knew what the film was, or even saw it on a Friday! Girls and boys in the back row downstairs snogging and the rest trying to move in and grab a ‘date’.Paper darts being thrown everywhere, and everyone climbing over the seats: usherettes torches shone in your eyes and just general pandemonium.The film was very often stopped and an announcement made threatening to throw everybody out unless order was maintained. If Harold Jones made an appearance everyone was terrified into silence. In 1962/63 I think it was 9d on a Friday and 1s/3d on a weekday.A Tuesday was quiet where you could relax and enjoy the film.

  • On a New Years Eve, Mr Harris in the cinema pay box would sit there eagerly looking at his watch waiting for the stroke of midnight, when it came he would ring a big bell with great gusto to bring in the New Year ! Lewis and James had their annual dance there, and it was half a crown to get in, but to manage to find half a crown was the big problem! Committee members did not get paid, but once a year they would take us to the races and give us twenty ‘Players’ (cigarettes), but if you didn’t smoke you wouldn’t get them! Mr Thomas was the manager of the memo; Harold Jones was his understudy, when Mr Thomas retired, Harold took over. When the old Grand cinema closed, there was talk of an “Odeon” coming there, so Harold Jones bought the site and effectively blocked it.

  • If my memory serves me well, I recall that the Stute used to host regular Sunday night rock band nights in the late 70s and early eighties.I believe that The Police and Dire Straits appeared there long before they were famous.I can’t remember which bands I saw probably because of the abundance of Newcastle Brown that was consumed.

    • jackandpeg:

      I remember these Sunday Nights to,I actually worked behind the bar on Sundays so I was lucky enough to get in free as well as see all the groups,I too cannot remember any of the group names,but enjoyed a Sunday evening very much.memories memories memories,thanks for reminding me.

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